Hundreds of veterans and activists marched on the gates of the Quantico Marine Base to demand the release of Pfc Bradley Manning.
For 299 days, Manning has been behind bars, accused of passing top secret cables, war logs and videos to whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
35 protesters, including whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg who released the Vietnam War log known as the Pentagon Papers, were arrested in an act of civil disobedience when they refused to move from the gates at Quantico, denouncing the Pentagon’s inhumane treatment of Manning.
Manning has been forced to strip naked and stand at attention in front of other clothed prisoners, is under constant surveillance and is kept in solitary confinement 23 hours per day, according to his lawyer. He is only permitted to exercise by walking around in a circle in another room while wearing leg shackles.
When asked by reporters on March 11 if he approved of the Pentagon’s treatment of Manning, President Barack Obama answered:“I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assured me that they are.”
Obama’s statement came one day after the resignation of State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who called the treatment of Manning: “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."
Protesters Sunday denounced Obama, chanting that Guantanamo Bay had been brought to US soil.
“I think Obama needs to get a hold on his administration if he's only being assured that the foremost whistleblower being held in confinement is fine,” said David House, a researcher at MIT and Manning’s friend who visits him frequently. “I have been seeing Bradley in confinement, and I can tell you Bradley’s not doing well. And if I can see Bradley Manning in confinement, Barack Obama can see Bradley Manning in confinement.”
Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, responsible for leaking the Vietnam War logs known as the Pentagon Papers, called Manning a hero.
“I want his example to give courage to other people,” Ellsberg said. “The more that other people realize the descriptions you're bound to get as a whistleblower, of being anti-American, a traitor, which is not true, are not appreciated by everyone. But we recognize him as having done the right thing.”
But not everyone in this military base town felt Manning had done the right thing.
“Knowing that this man who they're protesting for put my husband's life in danger, put my husband's friends' lives in danger, it's just frustrating,” said Whitney Jones, a resident of Quantico and a Marine spouse. “It's Quantico. We live on base. He's in the brig. The worst form of torture they could give him is to give him stale bread. I mean come on, he's not being tortured.”
Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other human rights groups denounced Manning’s conditions in a letter to Obama, charging it is “degrading” and “brings back memories of the abuses committed in Abu-Ghraib, which blackened the reputation of America’s armed forces.”
The Pentagon has not set a trial date for Manning. But activists here and around the world say they won’t back down until he’s freed.